This morning I opened my Inbox to find a message from the guys at Descarga:
"Carlos "Patato" Valdés 1926-2007. On Tuesday, December 4th, legendary conga master Carlos "Patato" Valdés died in NYC of respiratory failure. To all of his friends and family, our deepest sympathy. RIP Patato."
I'm saddened. Although I never got to meet him personally, he played an important part in my development as a conguero. As a role model, he showed that congas could be melodic instruments too, and commesurately how important the development of tones were in the natural skillset of a conga player. He also showed how important it was to remain a person whilst under the weight of, amongst other things, the quest for technical perfection; and to inject one's character into everything one does, be it drumming or dancing. Apart from being a master drummer, this dimunitively-framed man was also a rumbero mayor.
I remember how his playing just blew me away when I heard the 'Conga Kings' album; more so than Cándido Camaro and Giovanni Hidalgo, no slouches themselves, who were also featured.
I laughed after reading the liner notes and listening to the first track of 'Ritmo y Candela' - a gem of a CD that I'd initially bought only because my tres which I'd acquired via eBay, was featured on it. In 'San Francisco tiene su propio son', Patato unexpectedly took to singing inspiraciones impromptu through his conga mic in his cackling voice, the coro responding quickly off the cuff with "Patato se soltó (Patato's let loose)"... they left the take in the final cut of the Grammy winning album.
I smiled at the pictures of him, whilst reading of his thoughts on salsa in Mary Kent's Salsa Talks.
I chuckled at Ray Vega's spoof of Patato on Martin Cohen's (founder of Latin Percussion) site.
I don't know what to feel or say. But I do know what I will do. I'll dance tonight.